The Cobbler - 884m
The Cobbler North Peak - 870m
Sunday 17th April 2011
Weather/Conditions: Sunny, calm weather. Very warm below, and nice conditions on summits, + dry rock (quite necessary when dealing with mica schist). Some stray cloud briefly came over the summit later in the day.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 9.6km / 1000m / 7h 10m
So we made plans - mum would drive us up and we'd get a train home. Our rock climbing pal Graham would have come, but he was jetting off for a week's sport climbing in Spain. Lucky b******!
We didn't arrive in Arrochar until late-morning and started after 12. We got supplies from the Esso, the one I went to years ago when Arrochar was almost home-turf. The same guy works there, and looked just as unhappy as he did four years ago.
Ascent to the base of The Cobbler
But we got going, walking around the loch-head and onto the ascent track. Thoughts were directed on the heat, the weight of the packs and the thought of the climb ahead. We wanted to climb the South-east arête, but I was focused foremost on reaching the summit of South Peak by any route.
We left the busy path at the dam and headed onto An t-Sron, the eastern ridge of The Cobbler. A hot, heavy slog was the order of the day - with ropes and rack, the bags weighed a lot. I'd never been on An t-Sron, not on 10 previous visits to The Cobbler. So it was a refreshing change to get onto the ridge and finally have some views to look at, most notably down into Glen Croe, The Brack opposite and the Clyde Estuary in the distance. The Cobbler dominated all. The 3-dimensional view from here into the coire bowl is beautiful. In some way it's also threatening to think what awaits you.
The walk was hard work and we followed the ridge upward to the base of the South Peak. We met two climbers here who were about to start descending. Down at the base of the peak, I was pretty apprehensive of the ground I'd have to meet to get to the summit. With regards to climbing, I see myself as two things: A mountain guy who enjoys multi-peak days and the long slog, and a rock climber of the fearful variety. I do a lot of indoor climbing to a fair technical degree, but the thought of outdoor trad still isn't my bag. Maybe it will be in the future. Steve and I stood at the bottom of the south-east arete and decided then not to climb it that way - maybe another time!
We walked up to the saddle between the south and central peak to see how it would look from here. I'd been down to this saddle a few times, but I'd never got very far. A boulder blocks the way first, and this leads to a path traversing the side of the cliff. The boulder is sat atop a small drop, so I did an awkward belly-slide on to the boulder. From here we could walk around the path to the start of the real scrambling.
Prior to climbing the South Peak, the two things I knew about this route was it was the easiest way to the top, and that an abseil anchor allowed a rope-assisted descent back to the saddle. We climbed with this information in mind. Steve went up first - with a harness, rock shoes (which probably helped him climb), a rope on his back and a sling to set up the abseil. I came up behind, but stopped quite quickly. The exposure is pretty big, because the path where we'd started is a terrace half way up a cliff. And although the climbing in technical terms was very easy, holds were not completely positive and I found myself unable to go on. Smooth boot soles did not help. Several minutes and several tries later, I heard Steve from above - he'd been to the top of the peak and he had good things to say about the abseil anchor.
Steve abseiled back to me. I thought, now he's up I really gotta get up this - and so I started up the climbing again, secured by the rope at first, but untying because it created more problems than it solved. It may have helped overcome a couple of mental blocks though, and Steve climbed up behind me to help with handholds and footholds. The good news was that the first bit of climbing was the hardest and most exposed. Just do not slip. and trust your hands more than your fear.
The 'path' curved up to a small chimney, where the exposure is lessened by a ledge directly below. Then as I was starting to enjoy myself, and the moves, the abseil anchor came into view. It might be the most 'bomber', secure anchor I've ever seen. There were a few other slings are around it's upturned horn, and unless the whole thing moves (which seems unlikely) the abseil would be easy.
The anchor is only a few metres beneath the summit. Above the anchor, small face rears upward with a crack running it's length. The exposure isn't life-threatening here, but it's better not to fall. I shimmied up on my belly, getting the right handholds and footholds, got out the top and then I was on the summit area of the South Peak. An easy walk led to the top - a surprisingly big summit, a large angled slab with one corner the highest.
With a great deal of relief, I was finally on the top. Well, we still had to get down but with the abseil already in place, that shouldn't be a problem. I'd finally climbed the South Peak, and felt an incredible elation as a result. The last time I felt this way was climbing Nijinski at Auchinstarry Quarry. I don't remember the last time I felt that way about climbing a mountain, although I understand that the motivations between 'mountain walking' and rock climbing are different.
The Cobbler South Peak by it's easiest route is a sheer, exposed scramble, but it felt the same as a technical, short rock climb. I took a while to savour the summit, to admire the Central Peak from this unusual view, then headed down the awkward crackline to the abseil. Steve went first and I followed on.
Since we had all the time of the day, Steve climbed a direct route to the abseil anchor on top rope - we could afford the time. When we were done, we packed up and headed off the terrace ledge to the awkward boulder. I found it easier to return than it had been to get across - I just jumped back onto the path.
Annotated view of our ascent and descent of the South Peak
The central peak was up next, and if I could reach the top of it's pinnacle then the three peaks would be in the bag. With the south peak behind me, something like this should be an easy goal but I had it in the back of my head that of ten visits to the Cobbler, I'd left out the pinnacle nine times.
The walk up was quick, and the whole place seemed smaller than I remembered. I got there just before Steve and scrambled into the "eye of the needle", moved out onto the ledge, and had a look at the awkward climb upward - it had often evaded me in the past. One handhold there, a handhold there, foot up, move up, and so on. Amazingly, it was incredibly easy and my experience was so unlike any other in the past. On the awkward first ledge, footholds on the right-hand side helped enormously. I pulled up on big holds to emerge on the top of the summit pinnacle. Climbing on the south peak had helped undoubtedly.
It's a superb feeling to feel your confidence sky-rocket like that. Every time it happens I feel myself able to interpret the rock, find the moves and work over exposure. After all, why worry about falling if you know your not going to fall?
I took a 360° panorama from the top and went down again to safer ground, reversing all my moves without issue. Steve and I rigged an abseil through the eye of the needle and down the cliff on the other side - we both abseiled twice, just for the hell of it. It's interesting to go down the cliff you always feared in the past. And the abseil was no worry, we put slings around the enormous boulders and created a bombproof anchor.
North Peak and Descent
The irony of the Cobbler North Peak is that the easiest summit is also the most impressive. Although I was tired, I was going up. Steve came with me. I took some time to sightsee down the Cobbler's precipices and sat on the summit relishing the goal achieved. Well all we had to do was get back to Arrochar. That would be no problem, only a delight and as late-afternoon cloud scraped by the summit, we jumped down the path from the saddle and back to the Narnain boulders, did a bit of bouldering there (and got a bit stuck at points!) before doing the slog back to Arrochar.
In Arrochar, we went to the Ben Arthur Bothy, unlike the name suggests and pub and restaurant with great views across Loch Long to The Cobbler. This was another haunt of mine in 2007. I usually ended up sitting cold and wet from a soaking day on The Cobbler. They'd done it up a bit since I was last in. Steve and I got drink and burgers but forgot to pay. We walked to Arrochar and Tarbet train station, only realising the mistake half way along. Feeling guilty and wanting to show my face there again, I paid the following day by card over the phone.
We sat waiting for the train, with darkness coming and a full moon rising by Ben Reoch. I was knackered, as was Steve (he slept, I didn't). It was so worth it for the day we'd had. It was amazing to think I'd been up the South Peak and I'm immensely proud.
(0.00) 12.15pm Arrochar
(3.40) 3.55pm The Cobbler South Peak
(4.30) 4.45pm The Cobbler (arrived)
(5.20) 5.35pm The Cobbler (left)
(5.30) 5.45pm The Cobbler North Peak
(7.10) 7.25pm Arrochar
Walk to Tarbet train station after the meal:
(0.00) 8.45pm Arrochar (left)
(0.25) 9.10pm Arrochar and Tarbet train station